There must be something in the air in Houston that has helped to create many trailblazing singer songwriters over the years. It’s a surprising place of inspiration where songwriters were either born and raised or just passed on through on their way to other “music cities.”
Woodlands born, Hayes Carll has earned his place among the Who’s Who of Texas songwriters with his identifiable blend of sarcasm and timing in his reflective songs that often play out like short stories. Carll will be returning to Houston on Friday, June 11 for two performances at the historic Heights Theater.
“I’m just really looking forward to getting back to Houston and playing the Heights,” says Carll from his home in Nashville. “As Todd Snider says, ‘I’m just happy to be here.’” Carll shares a special bond with the venue, which he helped kick off when they opened and where his mom celebrated her first date years ago when the venue was a movie theater.
Twenty years or so ago, Carll could be found playing live in and around the Houston area on any given day growing his fan base the old fashioned way, with a solid touring schedule and magnetic stage presence.
“I built my career on touring, that was the number one thing for me certainly early on because I wasn't getting played on any radio except KPFT Houston,” says Carll. As he released more records, the radio play grew but touring was still basic for Carll.
“It was the one thing I felt like I could control,” he says. “I couldn't control if people put me on the radio or not, but I could go out there and set up shop in a town, perform and try to get people to come out. That was just the only way I knew how to build a career.”
During the shut down, Carll has tapped into his same rookie spirit relying on his core fans and garnering new ones with his weekly live streams Alone Together Tuesdays and Patreon benefits. Patreon provides Carll not only with some income when he cannot tour like he used to, but also a platform to release songs that don't necessarily fit onto an album but deserve to be heard while expanding his community of fans.
He and his wife Allison Moorer have spent their quarantine days together, enjoying the "calm before the storm" as Carll puts it ahead of his upcoming October 2021 release, You Get It All and Moorer's new book I Dream He Talks to Me.
“I've been doing pretty well all in all, I’ve been very fortunate. Doing the live streams has been a godsend. It gives me something to do and a way to connect with people every week and financially keep us afloat and able to get back.”
Just a few years prior to the pandemic, Carll was hosting “Enough Rope” live from The Saxon Pub in Austin. “Enough Rope” was a live performance where Carll would invite his friends on stage and live stream the event so people all over the world could watch.
“At the time it seemed like a really novel thing,” he says of the approach which is now the new normal for musicians slowly returning to the road. So far, Carll has hosted more than 50 of his “Alone Together Tuesday '' live streams giving fans a live performance right from his Tennessee living room.
“The fact that we were able to pull it off was just thanks to my fans. All those years of road work had paid off because I built up a pretty good base audience and was pretty close with a lot of my fans, so they were there for me when I needed to pivot and I'm just incredibly grateful.”
Lately, the weekly performances have been a celebration and revisiting of his previous albums in chronological order and a kind of expansion of his 2020 release, Alone Together Sessions where Carll recorded new versions of his older songs with the help of Darrell Scott, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Moorer.
“It wasn't really a traditional release so the touring behind it wasn't as important. It was just an in between records project that was never really supposed to be a full record but it ended up being that. I’m very proud of it and there's a part of me that wishes more people could hear it, but really it was just something to revisit older songs and reinterpret them.”
Carll and Hubbard revisited their cheeky “Drunken Poets Dream” originally written by Carll and on his 2008 album, Trouble In Mind and adopted by Hubbard frequently in his live performances, where Carll says Hubbard often “drops me in the grease.”
Carll describes the process of sending Hubbard new lyrics in their back and forth banter much like a friendly yet taunting Mad Libs between the two songwriters. “I got a real kick out of hearing him, what his responses were. I’m really proud, that's another thing about that record, and to have that recording with Ray is something I'll always treasure.”
“That’s one of my favorite and the most surreal parts of my life,” says Carll of befriending his Texas musical heroes. “I still remember the day I met Ray, I just found a photo. I was just a bartender at the Old Quarter and then twenty years or more than that later, we are friends and that means a whole lot to me.”
“It feels like yesterday where I was the kid who would do anything just to get two people to listen to me and to get any of my heroes to know my name would have been amazing to me. I chuckle when I meet some up and coming artists and they tell me that I was one of their influences. I’m like wait a minute that can’t be because I'm still the kid looking up to Ray Wylie Hubbard and Darrell Scott and all these people and so it tickles me to see how it has all played out. I just feel very grateful.”
Hayes Carll will perform with Josh Morningstar on Friday, June 11 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the early show and 8:45 p.m. for the late show, $26-464.
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